A PENINSULAR WAR SUBALTERN'S NOTEBOOK
Notebook of Lieut. William Tunstall who served with the 36th (Herefordshire) Regtiment during the Peninsular War. He was appointed to the 36th Regiment from the Militia on the 11th May 1809, and joined at Battle, Sussex, where it was busy re-organizing, and replacing losses sustained during the Retreat to Corunna early in that year.
The notebook was originally entered up in pencil, which was subsequently partially erased and over-written in ink. Many of its pages are devoted to recording daily marches from place to place throughout Portugal and Spain, and makes it quite obvious how the Regiment gained one of its old nicknames—"The Marching 36th."
It commences:—"We embarked on board the Weymouth at Cowes on Saturday, 15th of July, 1809, and dropt down to Spithead the same evening. We set sail from thence on Tuesday the 25 at 6 o'clock in the morning and came to anchor off Beachy Head at one o'clock the next day. At five we again weig'd anchor and proceeded for the Downs, at which place we came to anchor at half-past 3 o'clock of the 29. We again set sail from the Downs on Saturday 29 between 4 and 5 in the morning and came to anchor off the Island of Walcheren about five the same evening."
"On Sunday orders were issued to moor the ships close in shore and to disembark the troops. We commenced disembarking about six in the evening and all soon got on shore without much opposition. During that night we lay on the sandhills and the whole of the night the rain fell in torrents. The following morning we came before the town of Camvare, a place well fortified being close to the sea shore. Upon our arrival the Gun Boats and Bomb Vessels commenced their attack and after the whole of that day's bombardment they surrendered as Prisoners of War."
"The next day being Tuesday, the first of August, at six in the evening we commenced our march for Flushing and arrived before that place during the night. The next day encamp'd upon the left Wing. The Army immediately began to erect Batteries. On Thursday, the 3 of August, a small Fort which lies near Flushing called Rammiken surrendered. On the 6 the Enemy made a sortie upon the right of our lines endeavouring to take a Battery."
Lieut. William Turnstall
Here the narrative of the ill-fated Walcheren Expedition breaks off abruptly. Flushing capitulated on the 15th August, but the outbreak of an epidemic known as Walcheren fever effectively put a stop to any further operations. Five Officers and 216 O.R.'s succumbed in the 36th Regiment alone, whilst many of the survivors were either discharged as unfit for further service, or incapacitated for many months. The latter category included Tunstall himself. The remnant of the Regiment embarked for England on December 10th, and subsequently returned to its quarters at Battle, where it remained, absorbing drafts and refitting until January 1811.
"We embarked at Portsmouth on Board the Victory 28 January 1811. We set sail from thence on the morning of the 30th. On the 1st of February we put into Tor Bay at which place we remained wind bound till the 15th, when we weighed anchor and continued at sea without any extraordinary occurrence till the 23rd on which day we came off the coast of Spain, but owing to the wind becoming foul we were driven out to sea again. On the 1st of March the wind became fair and on the 2nd at about 7 o'clock in the morning we past in sight of Cape Finisterre, and on the 4th we entered the Tagus and came to anchor at 10 o'clock in the morning near Fort St. Julien. At half-past 3 we again weighed anchor to proceed further up the River. About half-past five the Revenge ran foul of us, but was soon disengaged without any material injury. We again came to anchor about a mile distant from Fort Belem at about a quarter before six. On the following morning at 7 o'clock we disembark'd, and marched into the Castel of Lisbon."
"We remained at Lisbon till Monday 11th, when we got into boats to proceed up the River to Villa Franca. Upon our arrival there I was taken ill with the measles, for which reason I was directed to return to Lisbon, and from thence I proceeded the following day to the Depot at Belem."
Tunstall did not remain long at this notorious place, however, leaving on the 2nd April, and rejoining the Regiment at Malpelida on the 1st May, when it was engaged in the blockade of Almeida. He was commanding the Baggage escort whilst the 36th was in position, but not engaged at Fuentes d'Onor, rejoining on the 10th May.
"The same night about 12 o'clock we were roused by a tremendous explosion in the direction of Almeida, which proved to be the French blowing up the Works and making their escape out of that place."
"We were immediately ordered under arms, and having got intelligence of the rout they had taken, after very hard marching we came up with them soon after daylight near the Bridge of Barba del Pueres, and being join'd at the same time by the 4 Regiment we commenced firing at them in passing down the Hill, and then advancing we kept up a very sharp fire till they had passed the Bridge. The situation of the Ground being such as to make it imprudent to advance further, we were then ordered back up the Hill, after which we returned to our former Quarters having encountered a very long and fatiguing march."
During the next twelve months the 6th Division, of which the 36th formed part, was almost continually on the march in the vicinity of the frontier of Spain and Portugal, being employed in covering the sieges of Cindad Rodrigo and Badajos, but was not engaged in any general action.
Tunstall was promoted Lieutenant on 21st January 1812. He went sick on the 20th May, probably with a recurrence of the fever, and was therefore not present with the 36th Regiment when it played a distinguished part in the hard-fought battle of Salamanca on 22nd July. He rejoined the Regiment on Sept. 4th when it was participating in the pursuit of the French Army towards Burgos.
"We encamped within about 2 miles of Burgos, the French retired leaving a garrison in the Castle. On the 19th the Place was invested by the 1st Division, at 5 o'clock in the evening the Horn Work or Fortified Height was stormed and carried by part of the above Division. On the 24th the 6th Division was called to the siege, and I was on a working Party in the Trenches that night. On the night of the 29th I was upon a Covering Party. This night at 12 o'clock a Mine was to be sprung and the Party were to Storm, but when the Mine exploded the Breach was found to be impracticable. On the evening of the 4th of October another Mine was sprung which made an effectual Breach, and the other Breach having been made practicable by the Fire of our Artillery, both were stormed (by part of the 1st and 6th Divisions) and a lodgement was made within the first Wall. On the evening of the 5th the Enemy made a Sortie and retook the old Breach (which was occupied by German Troops); they did not keep possession of it long, more troops arriving it was again attacked and carried and our former Post re-established."
"On the 10th I was in the Trenches. On the 15th the Regt. marched to the Town to take its Tour of Duty there. On the 17th the Regt. returned to its former quarters."
On the 21st October commenced the harassing retreat of the Army from Burgos which ended in Portugal early in December. On the 30thOctober, however, Tunstall left on sick leave, attended a Medical Board at Coimbra, and was granted two months' sick leave to England.
"On the 1st of January 1813 I embarked on Board the Hawkesbury Transport for England. On the 3rd we weighed anchor and left the Tagus, we continued at Sea till the 13th on which day about 3 o'clock in the Evening we discovered Land near Plymouth. On the 16th we entered Portsmouth Harbour, and the same day landed—in Old England."
"Oh happy happy Country thrice happy bless'd Free from all trouble, and from War oppress'd."
Tunstall embarked again for the Peninsula on the 8th October 1813, and rejoined the 36th Regiment in time to participate in the storming of the enemy's fortified position on the Nivelle, in which action he was severely wounded, losing the sight of his right eye. Thirty-six years later he received the Military General Service Medal with the bar for this battle. Unfortunately no account of the action appears in the notebook.
He eventually returned to the Regiment, and the next entry describes the voyage to Malta in 1817.
"The 36th Regt. embarked on the 29th of July at Portsmouth on Board the Regulus, Dorothea Abcona and Trent. On the 30th the Ships left the Harbour and came to anchor at Spithead, at which place they remained until the evening of the 5th of August, when the Wind becoming fair they got under weigh and proceeded to St. Helens, where they anchored during the night. The following morning we again weighed anchor and proceeded to Sea with a fair Wind. On the following morning the wind became foul, con¬tinued so the 7th and 8th and blew fresh. I suffered much from Sea Sickness. On the Eve of the 9th we put into Torbay. On the 10th about noon, the wind coming fair we again put to sea. Shortly afterwards the wind again became unfavourable, but we remained at sea and it blew hard. On the evening of the 12th we made Falmouth and came to anchor in the Harbour. We remained at Falmouth until the evening of the 20th, when the wind becoming fair we put to sea . . ."
"So much for Trooping in the 'good old days' of sail—over three weeks to clear the Channel !"
Pinned to the last leaf is the following copy of a medical certificate
"I Certify that Lieut. Tunstall of the 36th has suffered severely from Opthalmia of the Left Eye, during his residence in this Island. I am therefore of opinion that (having lost his right eye in action, on the 10th of November 1813 at the Battle of the Nivelle) a further residence in this climate would be attended with imminent danger to his remaining eye."
Sign'd Thos. Bourchier,
Malta, Feb. 19, 1819. Surgion 36th Regt.
Shortly afterwards he retired on half-pay and was in receipt of this emolument until his death about the year 1864.
A final memorandum dated 28th of June 1820 is pencilled on the inside of the cover:
"Paid my Aunt this day 60 Pounds, which added to 40 Pounds paid before, makes the sum of 100 Pounds, which is considered one year's Board up to the present period.